George H. W. Bush

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George H. W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 — November 30, 2018) was the 41st President of the United States of America, elected as a Republican in 1988 to follow Ronald Reagan. His single term as President saw the collapse of Communism and victory in the Gulf War against Iraq. Distrusted by conservatives for lacking "the vision thing", he was defeated in 1992 by Bill Clinton. He was the first President to see his son become president since 1824.

Early career

George Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, to an old Yankee family, but he grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Both his parents came from moneyed Midwestern families. His father, Prescott Bush, became a partner in a leading Wall Street firm and served as a Republican U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. He was a leading moderate Eisenhower Republican.

After Bush graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in 1942, he became the youngest pilot in the Navy. He flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific as a torpedo bomber pilot based on the carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30); in one of them, his plane was shot down and his two crewmen were killed. Awaiting assignment to the invasion of Japan, Bush returned temporarily to the United States and in January 1945 he married Barbara Pierce, whose father was the publisher of Redbook and McCall's magazines. The oldest child was George (elected governor of Texas in 1994 and President in 2000), Jeb (elected governor of Florida in 1998), Neil, Marvin, Dorothy, and Robin (who died of leukemia before her fourth birthday). Barbara Bush devoted her life to nurturing the close-knit family and to helping her husband's career. As First Lady she was proud and unapologetic about embracing a traditional lifestyle as helpmate to her husband. In a much publicized address to the women graduating from Wellesley College in 1990 she said: "As important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections with spouses, with children,and with friends are the most important investment you will ever make."

In 1945 Bush entered Yale University. He majored in economics, captained the baseball team, was initiated into Skull and Bones, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. Instead of going into his father's Wall Street firm, Bush moved to Texas and, helped by his family connections and wealth, went into the oil business. In 1953 he co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, and the next year he became president of the Zapata Offshore Company, which specialized in offshore drilling equipment.


Bush, an unusually gregarious man, became active in the still small Texas Republican Party. In 1964 he ran for the U.S. Senate and was beaten by the liberal Democratic incumbent, Ralph Yarborough. In 1966, however, Bush was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from a wealthy Houston district. He was reelected in 1968. In Congress, like his father, Bush identified with Republican moderates. In 1970 he was again nominated for the Senate. He received strong support from President Richard M. Nixon, but this time he was defeated by a conservative businessman, Lloyd Bentsen.

The Republicans controlled the White House, however, and George Bush was given a succession of important, highly visible appointive posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was Nixon's U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to 1973. After serving as chairman of the [[Republican National Committee] from 1973 to 1974, at the height of the Watergate scandal, he served Ford as U.S. envoy to China from 1974 to 1975 and as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1976 to 1977. In all of these jobs he proved himself a reliable and loyal executive.

At the Republican National Committee he was not involved in Watergate, for Nixon ran his reelection totally separate from the party. In China his role was symbolic. He reported, "It was a submarine environment, very restricted. We were engaged in people-watching, watching changing political relationships, analyzing visits, analyzing toasts and the order of protocol, asking other ambassadors what they thought." As head of the CIA, Bush was skeptical of assessments that the Soviet Union supported detente. He commissioned the famous Team B report of hard-line anti-Soviet analysts from outside the CIA. Team B warned that Soviet leaders still sought world domination and that under certain circumstances were prepared to wage nuclear war; its recommendations helped shape Reagan's policies.


In 1979 Bush launched a campaign for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. He outlasted all of his rivals in the primaries except Ronald Reagan. Bush's most memorable phrase in the campaign was the term "voodoo economics," a characterization of Reagan's promise that the money to pay for greatly increased military spending (which both men advocated) would come from drastic cuts in federal income taxes. Reagan easily won the nomination. After an abortive attempt to conciliate moderate Republicans and appeal to conservative Democrats by getting former president Gerald Ford to run for vice-president, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate. They won in a landslide as president Jimmy Carter was unable to cope with mounting economic troubles at home and disasters abroad.

The Reagan-Bush administration, as promised, cut taxes, raised military spending and speeded up the deregulation of the economy. The economy sputtered in 1982, but came roaring back in 1984, as Reagan and Bush carried 49 states in a triumphant reelection.

As vice-president, Bush had routine duties (and a staff of 68 people). He traveled tirelessly at home and abroad, sometimes on substantive missions, more often as a ceremonial representative. He set an attendance record at the funerals of foreign leaders--including three Soviet party heads: Leonid Brezhnev (1982), Yuri Andropov (1984), and Konstantin Chernenko (1985). At Chernenko's funeral Bush met the new, youthful, and energetic leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Bush was in charge of deregulation policy, especially the decontrol of businesses in vital areas of the economy, especially transportation firms (such as airlines) and financial corporations such as savings and loan associations (S&L's). Deregulation of the airlines led to sharply falling prices, much more travel, and the bankruptcy or merger of several airlines that had survived because of high regulated fares. The deregulated S&L's starting in the 1970s over-invested in speculative real estate and, since they were federally insured, the bailout cost the Treasury more than $500 billion.

Bush was given responsibility for coordinating government efforts to suppress illegal drugs. At this time a highly addictive form of adulterated cocaine known as crack became a grave problem in every large city and a cause of vastly increased urban violence.

Bush managed to minimize his role in Reagan's biggest embarrassment, the Iran-Contra Affair. It was the revelation in 1986 that, while publicly denouncing Iran as a terrorist state, Reagan's White House staffers, using Israel as intermediary, had secretly sent weapons to Iran in exchange for money and U.S. hostages held by Iranian-controlled fundamentalist factions in Lebanon. The profits from these arms sales were used to buy arms for the Nicaraguan "contras" to avoid the law that prohibited money appropriated by Congress to aid the "contras." Although Bush was present at meetings where crucial decisions were taken, he had no power in the matter and his assurance that he "was out of the loop" satisfied the congressional investigators of the "Iran-contra affair."

Presidential election, 1988

Bush ran for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination as the loyal vice-president, the legitimate heir to Ronald Reagan. He won the nomination easily over two almost as well-known, well-financed rivals, Senate Republican leader Robert Dole and the right-wing television evangelist-businessman Pat Robertson.

Bush was able to gain support from both of the Republican Party's main constituencies. One group, drawn from the upper middle class and the rich, was anxious to retain the economic advantages of the Reagan "revolution": lower taxes, deregulation of business, and a climate of endless self-enrichment. The other group, drawn largely from traditionalist Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants, were most responsive to patriotic rhetoric and to promises to suppress "permissiveness" by tightening censorship of sexually explicit or deviant speech and art, and by prohibiting abortions, promoting school prayer, and suppressing homosexuality. Bush proved reasonably acceptable to both groups. He chose as running mate Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, a young right-winger so verbally inept that he became the butt of political humorists.

During an aggressive campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, Bush waged a potent attack that--together with the continued business prosperity and reduced white unemployment--kept Republican voters and a majority of conservative white Democrats loyal to him as Reagan's heir. Bush ridiculed Dukakis as a "card-carrying member" of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Bush campaign ran TV ads exposing massive pollution in Boston Harbor to impugn Dukakis' environmental record, and other ads attacked his release from prison of Willie Horton, a black murderer who raped a white woman and stabbed her fiancé.

Bush promised "a kinder, gentler nation" and a prosperous America. He upheld capital punishment and promised to appoint judges who would reverse "permissive" rulings on "pornography" and abortion. He praised the Reagan tax cuts and military spending increases and promised--in the most memorable phrase of the campaign, "Read my lips: No new taxes"--that he would not raise taxes. To stimulate faster economic growth he proposed a cut, from a maximum of 33% percent to 15%, in the tax on capital gains. His success was assured when Dukakis, who had defined the central issue as "competence, not ideology," proceeded to run a conspicuously incompetent campaign.

on Nov. 8, 1988, Bush beat Dukakis by 54% - 45%; he won six out of ten white votes but only one out of ten black votes and carried 40 states. The Democrats, however, kept their majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.


Domestic issues

As president, Bush continued all the policies of the Reagan-Bush administration. He supported two pieces of "liberal" legislation--the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Both were popular with voters and reflected his personal values. He made opposition to abortion rights obligatory for presidential appointees in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He used the veto to prohibit the District of Columbia from funding abortions and to kill a bill that would have guaranteed unpaid "parental leave." However, he was unable to gain passage of a cut in the tax rate on income from capital gains. His appointment to the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas, a conservative black, raised a firestorm of protest from feminists who thought he harassed his aide Anita Hill; Thomas was confirmed and moved the Court to the right.

Within a year, Bush agreed to a deal with Congress that violated his main promise of "no new taxes," thus angering his conservative supporters. On January 1, 1990, he implemented a $4 billion a year payroll tax increase. By mid-1990 he was calling for more substantial tax increases, euphemistically dubbed "revenue enhancements." After a bipartisan "budget summit," the second-largest tax increase in U.S. history was put into effect. The cost of bailing out collapsing savings and loan banks brought the prospective budget deficit to around $200 billion (and, by 1991, to about $300 billion). The economy stagnated in 1989, and by mid-1990 it was going into recession. However, improved relations with the Soviet Union and his assertive use of U.S. military power sustained Bush's standing in public-opinion polls. In December 1989 he sent 24,000 troops, in Operation Just Cause, to overthrow Manuel Noriega, the dictator in Panama who threatened American lives.

Collapse of Communism

Bush, an experienced diplomat who knew every major figure in the world, built a strong foreign policy team around trusted long-times associates James Baker as Secretary of State, and Brent Scowcroft as National Security Advisor, along with Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense. The Senate rejected Bush's first choice for the post, former Texas Senator John Tower, who had a reputation for alcoholism.

The Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989, and in a matter of days all the Soviet satellites had revolted and proclaimed solidarity with the West. West Germany absorbed East Germany, and sent large sums to Moscow to stabilize Mikhail Gorbachev's regime. Bush gave moral support (but no money) to prop up Gorbachev's faltering regime, but it too fell in 1991 as Communism disappeared in Russia and the Cold War ended in American victory. There were no parades or ceremonies as Bush downplayed the event, fearing a Russian reaction. Soviet sponsored insurrections in the Third World all dried up as well. Welcoming the collapse of the entire Soviet bloc, Bush sharply cut the military budget, while continuing long-range research into ballistic missile defense.

Gulf War

For more information, see: Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded small, oil-rich Kuwait in August 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia, Bush sent forces to defend Saudi Arabia and demand Iraq's Saddam Hussein obey UN orders to withdraw immediately from Kuwait. This was the start of a systematic military buildup, leading to war. Bush's nuanced diplomacy with Gorbachev in 1989 and 1990 led to Moscow's indispensable support for his Gulf War actions. Having gained the support of the congressional Democrats and the UN Security Council, on Jan. 16, 1991, Bush ordered an all-out aerial bombardment of Iraq. Within five weeks Iraq's infrastructure was severely damaged but Saddam refused to retreat. A full scale allied invasion drove Iraq out of Kuwait. Bush decided not to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but to impose severe restrictions on his regime. Bush's poll ratings stood at an all-time high, reaching 90%.

Reelection 1992

Recession dragged into mid-1991 and by fall recovery was scarcely discernible. Rejecting any increases in public spending, Bush sought to restore a semblance of prosperity for his 1992 reelection campaign by having the Federal Reserve make drastic cuts in short-term interest rates and by relaxing limits on risky loans by banks.

Bush's conspicuous insensitivity to the effects of the slump ruined his public image. So vulnerable had he become by November 1991 that a right-wing television commentator, Patrick Buchanan, challenged his renomination in the Republican primaries. Bush responded with his own right-wing campaign, emphasizing his opposition to abortion and even making an apology for his "budget summit" tax increases. Bush successfully fended off Buchanan, but a most ominous precedent had been set--no party had ever retained the White House after a serious challenge, successful or not, to the renomination of a sitting president. To make matters worse, the Republican convention in August 1992 showcased Buchanan's talk of "culture war" and presented an aggressively conservative image that alienated most moderate voters, especially women.

Bush's faltering reelection campaign was upset by the sudden entry of billionaire Ross Perot as a third party candidate crusading against federal deficits. Perot drew heavily from conservatives. In the three-way race, Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, pulled together the Democratic party. Bush's attempt to capitalize on his triumphs over Iraq and the Soviet Union seemed not to affect the voters. Like William Howard Taft (who followed Theodore Roosevelt) and Harry Truman (who followed Franklin D. Roosevelt), Bush lacked the charisma and public relations skills of his predecessor and suffered for it at the polls. Unlike Truman he did not make a last-minute comeback. On November 3, 1992, Bush received 37% of the vote, against 43% for Clinton and 19% for Perot.

Later life

George Bush largely retired from politics after stepping down from the presidency. In 2000 and 2004 he supported his son George W. Bush's victorious election campaigns. In the 2008 presidential race, he endorsed fellow Republican John McCain.[1] He died on November 30, 2018, aged 94.


  1. Allen, Mike (February 15, 2008). George H.W. Bush to endorse McCain. Politico. Retrieved on February 23, 2008.